Lockheed Martin to provide AFSS service

 - March 12, 2007, 8:57 AM

The FAA last month chose Lockheed Martin from a field of five bidders to provide the services now offered by the agency’s 58 automated flight service stations in the continental U.S., Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Under a five-year contract that includes five additional option years, the agency expects to save $2.2 billion if it exercises all of the option years.

The FAA decided to look at outsourcing the FSS function to reduce its current $500 million annual cost by at least 22 percent. The primary users of the FSS system are general aviation pilots, who pay about $60 million a year into the aviation trust fund through federal taxes on avgas. While the FAA’s schedule calls for a six- to nine-month phase-in starting in October followed by a 36-month transition period, there is also an appeal period for the losing bidders to contest the agency’s decision.

The other bidders for the contract were a partnership between the FAA’s current weather briefers and Harris; Computer Sciences, the provider of DUATS; Northrop Grumman; and Raytheon.

The FAA said it selected Lockheed Martin for its demonstrated ability to deliver high-quality safety and services and technical excellence at a competitive cost while providing a seamless transition to new operations. The Bethesda, Md.-based company recently brought online the Potomac Tracon, which consolidates the Tracons for Baltimore-Washington International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Dulles International and Richmond International Airports and Andrews Air Force Base into one facility. The FAA will continue oversight of the service.
Studies by the FAA and the Department of Transportation’s inspector general identified significant potential cost savings at automated flight service stations. Additionally, many automated flight service stations are in need of upgraded technology and are housed in deteriorating buildings.

After completing a careful review of the findings, the FAA formally announced in December 2003 that its flight service stations met the criteria for “competitive sourcing” and said it would conduct a competition under the Office of Management
and Budget’s Circular A-76 guidelines for an improved way to provide flight service operations.

The current 2,500 FAA AFSS employees will have a right of first refusal for jobs with Lockheed Martin, but the agency plans to consolidate incrementally the 58 FSS facilities down to 20 between April next year and March 2007. The FSS facilities in Alaska are exempt from the plan because of the state’s unusual and often unpredictable weather conditions and the use of aviation as a primary means of transportation.

AOPA, whose more than 400,000 members are the primary users of FSSes, said pilots are going to get a contractual guarantee that a live briefer will answer their phone calls within 20 seconds and acknowledge their radio calls within five seconds. Flight plans will be filed within three minutes, the association said.

In the past, AOPA has opposed attempts to reduce the numbers and staffing of flight service stations. But the association has become an enthusiastic supporter of the Lockheed Martin plan.

All of the facilities will be tied together in a super network, sharing a common database, and every briefer will have access to all information. Briefers will be trained for specific geographic areas, ensuring that pilots will still have access to specialized knowledge of local conditions.

When a pilot contacts a facility, he will be prompted to indicate where he will be flying, so that he can be connected to a briefer who knows the area. Eventually pilots will be able to get an interactive briefing, calling up the same charts and weather maps on their own computers that the briefers see on their computers.

Pilots will be able to file pilot and aircraft profiles in the system, so that the briefer can tailor the information specifically to the pilot’s experience level. Lockheed Martin also plans to add e-mail and PDA alerts to the system. If a notam comes out or there is a significant change in the weather after a pilot’s live or computer-based briefing, the system will send the pilot an electronic alert.